Big One – sticks out a mile. Who can forget the classic innuendo laden 1970s TV ad for the Big One chocolate bar? Plenty judging by the blank looks from OldnDazed readers I’ve mentioned it to when discussing my list of the best ever sweets and chocolates.
But, fading memories apart, it does make you think of our favourite sweets and chocolate bars from yesteryear which are no longer with us. Or, they may still be around, just a hell of a lot smaller.
Actually, this journey down confectionary memory lane was inspired by the news that new Walnut Whips are hitting the shelves. Sans the walnut. Hence they are now called Whips.
Makes sense but my inner old git isn’t happy. Even if I did, and still do, take the walnut off and sling it.
The golden age of confectionary
Let’s get straight to it. The 1970s was the decade for chocoholics and sweet addicts. Or maybe it’s just that this decade coincided with my sweet tooth becoming more lethal than Dracula’s fangs at a Transylvanian virgins convention.
Whatever. My favourite munchies from this decade included…..
OK. This is where I need to pause and revaluate. My original intention was to have a decade by decade summary of the best choccy treats.
But, during my extensive research (two minutes on Wikipedia) it transpires most of the sweets I remember from my youth were actually introduced years, even decades, before.
So. New tactic. Firstly, a potted history of sweet treats followed by my own top ten best ever sweets and chocolates. Needless to say I’m sure this will cause a bit of debate. Anyway, let’s get the dusty history out of the way first.
Back when time forgot
Before Victoria lowered her plump posterior onto the throne sweets weren’t really a thing. Most kids had to make do with munching on small pieces of coal for their sweet treat.
But, once Charles Dickens had invented Christmas, new sweets and chocolates had to be found. The grubby pillow cases of street urchins and rich kids’ pristine stockings had to be filled with something. Cue loads of new sweets being produced.
Now, this may not be entirely accurate, OK, its complete bollocks. But let’s run with it.
Vicky rings in the changes
1886 was a seminal year. It sounds incredible but this was the year Fry’s Chocolate Cream was invented. I know what you’re thinking. But it’s true. I know. Unbelievable.
As we’ll see later Mr J.S.Fry’s glorious chocolatey treat makes it into my top ten list of best ever sweets and chocolates. It’s staggering to think how old it is. And, being dairy-free and vegan it was way ahead of its time. Who knew?
Into the 1900s
I told you this was going to be a brief history. Let’s gallop through the 20th century with a few edited highlights.
The early twentieth century saw chocolate bar producers struggling for sales. However, the First World War changed all that. Manufacturers including Rowntree’s of York sent British soldiers a tin of chocolate each at Christmas 1914. This heralded a surge of popularity for the sweet stuff which has never waned.
Between the wars
Although I started this essay eulogising about the 1970s it was actually the twenties and thirties which were the golden age of sweet making. The decade produced some of the best ever sweets. Amongst other giants of sweet history Kit Kat, Marathon, Flake, Aero and Mars were all invented during this time.
The 1930s may have seen the great depression with massive unemployment, poor housing (for some) and widespread poverty. But at least the sweet shops were stocked with brand new chocolate bars. Only the well-off could afford them but I’m sure the hard-up working classes didn’t begrudge the toffs tucking into their Mars and Kit Kats.
By the way, in 1939 you could nip into Woolies and grab a half pound chocolate bar for sixpence.
Oh no, sweet rationing
Horror of horrors the 1940s saw kids everywhere deprived of their sugar rush as rationing was introduced. Apparently there was a bit of a barney in France which meant kids couldn’t eat chocolate anymore.
The sweet ration varied between 8oz and 16oz a month. This probably equates to a boiled sweet a day. Not a great time to be a chocoholic.
Yay, the end of rationing
Once the Hun had been given a jolly good kicking thoughts, naturally enough, turned to chocolate. There was also the small matter of rebuilding our bombed out cities, launching the NHS and nationalising the railways. But, chocolate was obviously the most important.
Wartime austerity was firmly banished in the 1950s with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan telling the nation “you’ve never had it so good.” He must have been stood in a sweet shop at the time.
Mars had already brought the taste of paradise to the high street with the launch of the Bounty. And the sweetie renaissance was well and truly underway. The end of the decade saw Macintosh create the unique Caramac (another of my best ever sweets) with Opal Fruits appearing a year later in 1960.
In for a penny
As we gallop relentlessly towards the end of the 20th century I should touch on the popularity of penny sweets. The seventies and eighties were probably their heyday. Hordes of kids would turn up at the local shop with a handful of change and leave with a bag of treats.
Personal favourites from the time included:
• Fruit salad
• Candy cigarettes
• Love Hearts
But I was never a fan of the chewy sweets like strawberry laces, foam mushrooms, cola bottles and fried eggs. And was there anyone who actually liked Parma Violets? Surely the most hated sweet of all time?
The seventies saw Yorkie hit the shops but possibly the sweet I bought most at the time was bubble gum. Purely for the football card attached to the gum. A typical scene in any school playground at the time was kids sat around comparing their football card collections looking for swaps. “Got, got, got, got, need!”
Cadbury’s Creme Egg adopted its modern guise in the seventies but I don’t think I was aware of them until much later. The award for the most iconic chocolate bar of the 1980s surely has to go to the Wispa. Mega-popular it was inexplicably binned in 2003 only to be brought out of retirement five years later after a prolonged online campaign.
In the midst of all this goody goodness I have to end my review of the 20th century and the best ever sweets on a sad note. One which I am sure will resonate with old gits everywhere.
July 19, 1990 was a shamefully day writ large in the annals of confectionery history. It was the day of the ridiculous metamorphosis of a Marathon into something called Snickers. I need say no more.
The new millennium
Since the turn of the new century there have been plenty of confectionery changes. All of them bad. It has been one outrageous scandal after another as the size of chocolate bars shrink, the number of sweets in a bag reduce, and prices go through the roof.
The manufacturers defend their heinous behaviour by saying they are helping the health of the nation by reducing the size of sweets. Whilst they simultaneously raise prices and make bigger profits. Thanks fellas.
I suppose the only good thing about the last couple of decades is the emergence of more artisan sweet makers. Every market, many high streets, and most events will feature at least one sweet maker selling their wares.
But, with no more ado I’m going to list my top ten best ever sweets and chocolate bars. As always this is my opinion and I would welcome your list. Use the comments box below to tell us about your favourite confectionery memory.
My top ten best ever sweets and chocolate bars of all time
1 – Bounty
Oh the memories. When I was a kid every Friday Dad would come home from the local with fish n chips, a bottle of shandy, and a Bounty. Back in the day they were bigger and had the cool cardboard tray. I’m still a fan.
2 – Kit Kat
Whether dunking or eating dry a Kit Kat is hard to beat. And I’m not such an old git that I don’t enjoy the new flavours. Mint is my favourite followed by orange. But original will always be best.
3 – Old Jamaica
An absolute Cadbury’s classic from 1970. Bournville dark chocolate with rum and raisins. And the coolest wrapper ever. This bar disappeared for years so imagine my delight when trudging through Morrisons one day I saw it on the shelves. Yes, it’s back. Still available but not easy to find in shops.
4 – Woolworths pick and mix
Not sure if this is cheating or not but every kid loved the pick and mix in Woolworths. Before MacDonald’s a treat during a trip to town meant nipping into Woolies and helping yourself to chocolate mice, Jazzies, strawberry creams and any of the other 1001 exotic delights.
5 – Fry’s Chocolate Cream
Fondant and chocolate. Hard to find a better combination. I enjoy both the original and peppermint versions. Fry’s also did a five centre bar until the 1990s which was a tad too adventurous I thought.
6 – Munchies
I was surprised to discover Munchies were a thing back in the 1950s. I don’t think I discovered them when I was a kid but they are my guilt snack of choice now. Love the original and the mint which were called Mintola.
7 – Caramac
The chocolatey equivalent of Marmite. You either love it or hate it. It’s in my top ten so I’m definitely a lover though I don’t know many others who share my opinion.
8 – Milk Tray Bar
Oh yes, this was a thing. Eight Milk Tray chocolates joined together in a bar. Unbelievable. My favourite was the lime barrel. Loved it. Wish they would bring this one back.
9 – Milky Way
It’s the treat you can eat between meals. An easy to eat bar and it had those brilliant adverts during the eighties when the blue car beat the greedy red car. Did you know in America a Milky Way is actually a Mars bar? Those Yanks are nuts.
10 – Maltesers
Another classic confectionery invented in the 1930s. Who doesn’t like a box of this malty treat at Christmas? Or any other time of the year.